Deer, deer, deer. Sometimes it seems like that’s all we hear about in November. To some, it might get a bit tiring. Then again, when you consider how influential and important whitetails are – not just to hunters but all of us – maybe all that attention is warranted.

Deer are certainly popular among hunters. According to the 2011 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation, deer hunters represent 80 percent of the 13.7 million hunters in the U.S. (up 9 percent from the previous survey), and account for a similar proportion of total hunting days spent afield. The report doesn’t break down expenditures by species, but according to figures from the Quality Deer Management Association, the average deer hunter spends about $1,700 a year, which collectively amounts to $18 billion annually.

When you add related expenditures like travel and lodging, the total climbs to almost $40 billion, which doesn’t account for an additional $3 billion in federal taxes and $2.5 billion in local and state taxes generated by deer hunting. Yes, folks, deer hunting is big business.

Whitetails account for the bulk of hunting license sales, which often fund most of their respective state’s wildlife agency budget, a budget that includes research and management of all other fish and wildlife species.

Have you been to L.L. Bean, Kittery Trading Post or Cabela’s lately? There’s all manner of hunting gear, but the overwhelming majority of what sportsmen buy is somehow related to deer hunting.

Then there’s the media. For every general hunting show on television, there are five shows devoted almost exclusively to deer. When old friend Stephen Carpenteri was editor of New England Game & Fish magazine, he told me “Whitetails sell.” And he emphasized the point by noting from August through the year’s end, whitetails would grace the cover of not just his magazine, but all the Game & Fish publications throughout the whitetail’s range.

Here in Maine, deer hunters represent only about 72 percent of all hunters and account for roughly 61 percent of hunter days. That’s not as high as the national average but still pretty significant. Whitetails carry the load.

Not all of the whitetail’s tremendous influence is positive. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety estimates more than 1.5 million deer-vehicle collisions occur each year. Those result in an average of 150 occupant deaths, countless injuries and more than $1 billion in vehicle damage each year. The number of collisions is likely underestimated, possibly by a good deal, as this includes only those collisions that are reported and result in insurable damage. Many additional collisions go unreported.

Autos aren’t the only property that deer damage. They feast on a variety of plants we’d just as soon they didn’t, from ornamental shrubs and garden vegetables to the crops farmers depend on for their livelihood. Deer also act as hosts to those nasty little eight-legged, disease-ridden arachnids that have discouraged many folks from venturing much farther than their own front lawn.

Fortunately, the most effective solution to the negative side of whitetails is their positive side. For more than a century, we’ve tested every alternative imaginable, from immunocontraception and neutering to translocation and culling. Far and away the most efficient, cost-effective and socially defensible solution is regulated sport hunting. It provides a source of recreation, locally grown organic protein, and a considerable source of revenue to strapped state wildlife agencies.

Bob Humphrey is a freelance writer and registered Maine guide who lives in Pownal. He can be reached at:

[email protected]

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